A £100,000 grant will be used to preserve one of Scotland’s most historic libraries on a tiny but significant Hebridean island.
The Iona Cathedral Trust received the money from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to rescue the little-known library, which is hidden away above the cloisters of Iona Abbey.
The two-year project will conserve hundreds of manuscripts and a digital catalogue will also be made available online through expertise shared by the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).
The early monastery of St. Columba, founded in the 6th century, famously produced the Book of Kells, among other notable manuscripts at a time when libraries were a symbol of wealth and education uniquely owned by an elite few.
The current library, restored during the rebuilding of some of the Iona Abbey buildings by George Macleod and the Iona Community, includes collections of national significance.
Gaelic manuscripts dating form the 19th century and examples of Celtic art among the treasures that will be restored.
The oldest books in the collection date from the 17th century.
Conservators on the mainland will work to restore and repair the library items over the next two years, and the project is supported by groups including Historic Environment Scotland, the Iona community, UHI and the Island of Iona Community Council.
Chairman of the Iona Cathedral Trust, Very Rev Dr Finlay Macdonald, said: “We are delighted this gem of a library can be made more accessible and our valuable heritage preserved thanks to this support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Iona Cathedral attracts many visitors, but the library is hidden away over the cloisters. Many more people will be able to enjoy it thanks to this grant.”
Iona Abbey is one of Scotland’s top heritage attractions, and the island of Iona regularly attracts more than 130,000 visitors each year.
There will be plenty of opportunity for volunteer help and public involvement through creative, educational and conservation workshops in local schools and communities.
A public exhibition will be created on Iona in the final year to showcase all the hard work, fun and play generated by the project before its expected completion in October 2018.
Lucy Casot, head of HLF Scotland, said: “This is a great project that, thanks to the National Lottery players, will transform the Iona Abbey library project for future visitors and encourage everyone to enjoy its amazing heritage collections”.